Playwright and novelist, Cecilia Knapp announced as Ruth Rendell Award winner for 2021

07 Dec 2021
Cecilia Knapp.jpeg

Young People’s Laureate for London, playwright and novelist, Cecilia Knapp, has won the coveted Ruth Rendell Award for her outstanding contribution to raise literacy levels in the UK over the last year.

We launched the Award in memory of bestselling author Ruth Rendell in 2016 with Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS). The Award celebrates the author who has done the most to champion literacy throughout the UK over the past year. 

This year’s ALCS award announcements take place on the evening of 7 December with our Chief Executive, Jonathan Douglas CBE and ALCS Deputy Chief Executive, Barbara Hayes at a special ceremony in the House of Commons.

Cecilia was chosen out of a selection of talented writers by this year’s panel of judges, Di Redmond, (Non-Executive Director of ALCS), Antonia Byatt, (Chief Executive, First Story), Rob Smith (Director of Ministry of Stories) and Jonathan Douglas CBE (Chief Executive of the National Literacy Trust) who were unanimous in their decision to award Cecilia for her remarkable achievements. Former winners of the Award include Children’s Laureate Cressida Cowell, Andy McNab and Karl Nova.

By way of demonstrating her commitment to literacy, Cecilia has delivered four residencies as part of the Young People's Laureate for London programme run by Spread the Word, for young people with partner organisations Young Refugee and Roots Council, South London Gallery, Street Soccer and CALM, and Royal Court over the past 12 months.

She initiated Knapp Chats as part of her Laureateship chatting to some writers whose work she admired, to celebrate the power of writing but also to hear from a range of people and how they got into the creative world. The diverse group of writers includes artist Travis Alabanza, poet Rachel Long and poet and playwright, Toby Campion.

This year, Cecilia’s achievements also included:

  • As Laureate organising an online campaign #WriteThroughThis, free workshops and videos to get young people through the pandemic which culminated in an anthology, publishing 15 young poets.
  • Working with First Story as an ambassador for National Writing Day 2020 to deliver an online workshop on identity, reaching over 3,500 young people and teachers.
  • First Story writer-in-residence at Hampstead School, working across Year 9 in the first term and with a selected cohort in the second term.

Cecilia has remained totally committed to working with under-privileged young people through First Story and has taken on two further residencies this year. She also worked with a group of girls and explored issues around #MeToo and women being safe on the streets and produced an anthology with them.

“This is a total and gorgeous shock. I care deeply about making literature accessible to young people, and making sure they feel entitled to the world of stories and poetry as something they are entitled to; a space they can occupy however and whenever they want, on their own terms. It was a free workshop that sparked my love of literature back when I was younger. It made me see that reading and writing doesn’t have to feel scary and impenetrable, that it doesn’t have to be a test, that our own voices and stories are just as valid as whatever has gone before. “So I always knew I wanted to pay that forward and help more young people develop a love of reading and writing, as it had such a transformative experience on my life. It’s enough of a prize to get to hang out with brilliant young people and see them grow through the sharing of stories, but this prize is an added honour, it feels just wonderful that it recognises what I set out to do.”

Celia Knapp

“It is an honour and a privilege to announce Cecilia as winner of the Ruth Rendell Award 2021. In her short career, Cecilia has already amassed a roll call of achievements that would leave most of us reeling. The judges were all in awe of her passion and commitment to bring poetry to young people, who might not have experienced it before. “Cecilia has also been developing and delivering workshops, campaigning on the airwaves and supporting teachers with resources, whilst continuing to write stand-out and inspiring poetry and plays. She’s been tireless in encouraging young people to discover writers and poetry and to use writing and reading to express themselves creatively. Congratulations to Cecilia – a hugely well-deserved recipient of the Ruth Rendell Award.”

Jonathan Douglas CBE, Chief Executive of the National Literacy Trust

“Cecilia is a true inspiration to young girls and boys. She works hard to open up the world of reading and writing, and strives to make young people feel that they too can write; their stories are worth telling and can have a place in the world. We are delighted to see Cecilia recognised for all her hard work. Congratulations!”

Barbara Hayes, Deputy Chief Executive of the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society

Find out more about the Ruth Rendell Award